Disclaimer: We've reached the end.
I sit in Gale's arms as he presses kisses down my neck. Haymitch scoffs in annoyance but I see the smirk he wears. We all sit in the Hawthorne residence as we pass Christmas presents around. Gale was hesitant to return but after a phone call from Vick nearly begging him to stop by, he didn't have the heart to say no. I wouldn't have let him, anyway. Posy rips open a brand new doll and lets out a victory screech before shouting her thanks to me and Gale. "Madge picked it out," he tells her. "You should thank her."
"Madge you're the best in the entire world!" Posy cheers, rushing over into my arms and squeezing the life out of me. "You're the best sister ever!" Gale's eyebrows lift as Posy runs back to the tree to open her next present.
"Sister, eh?" Rory smirks. "I didn't know you two got married."
"We didn't," I sputter quickly, watching relief flood Hazelle's face. It's not that she doesn't want us to get married, I have no idea if she does or doesn't, but we've got our whole lives ahead of us and there's no rush. "Not for awhile," I add, shooting a look toward Haymitch who keeps his eyes narrowed in our direction. Gale continues to kiss me with a grin plastered on his face, he doesn't even care that his family is watching. We've talked about marriage and decided to wait, we're still young. I'm only 18, he's only 20. We've got all the time in the world at our disposal.
"Well good thing you two are waiting," Bristel forces out through a voice she isn't sure if she wants to use or not. "Because we aren't." She lifts up her hand slowly as the entire room turns to her and Thom. A ring sparkles on her wedding finger, thin and silver with a bright red jewel. My jaw drops open but no words come out, she's getting married! I'll have to help plan the wedding, maybe I'll get to be a bridesmaid or the maid of honor! I haven't been to a wedding ever since I was very little and there was a very high up in the District that my father made me attend. Hazelle shouts in joy as Thom's face runs red. I'm already deciding on what type of flowers they should use. "He asked me last week," Bristel tells us as we study the small ring she wears on her finger. "And I love him, so…"
"Bristel," Thom turns red again as she speaks, dropping his head into his hands. "Can't you have girl talk later?"
"No," Gale calls over, "girl talk now." I know Gale's irritated that he had no knowledge of this whatsoever, so he's taking it out on Thom while he can. "Go on, how'd he ask you?" Bristel flushes, shocked that Gale's actually going to let her talk about this. She gushes out a story about how Thom took her back to the place where they shared their first kiss, dropping down on one knee and everything. My heart leaps as I watch one of my closest friend babble on about this, Thom's face stays the same shade the entire time. "You want a ring like that?" Gale whispers to me as I listen to her story.
"No," I reply with a smile. He brushes a strand of hair out of my face and kisses my temple. "I want an original."
He laughs, "You know what I meant." I lift my shoulders into a shrug as he digs in his back pocket, pulling out a small wrapped box. "Here."
"Gale Hawthorne I swear…"
"Just open it," he smiles. Everyone else in the room is too preoccupied with Bristel and Thom to be paying any attention to us. Thom is starting to open up, talk about all the wonderful things he loves about her. I finger a piece of wrapping paper that hasn't been taped down. "Go on," he tickles my side so I squirm. "Open it." I chew my lip and tear the paper until I get to the small velvet box. I give him another look and he rolls his eyes, threatening to tickle me again. I pop open the box and nearly drop it.
"No," I shake my head, turning around to force it into his hands. "Gale, I…"
"Here," he takes it and pries the golden necklace out, the golden Mockingjay necklace my father gave me what feels like hundreds of years ago. The last time I saw this necklace I clawed Gale, the last time I saw this necklace I discovered they did more than wipe my memories. I continue to shake my head but he pays no mind, unlatching it before pulling my hair out of the way and re-latching it behind my neck. "You're not going to hurt anyone," he whispers. "I know you want it."
"I do," I admit as I peel my eyes open, "but I don't." Not if I'm going to hurt someone because of it.
"I promise I won't let you hurt anyone," he says again as if he's reading my mind, tipping my chin so he can kiss me. "I want you to have it. So you know I'm always with you and so are they, alright?" My parents, Kasen, they're all still with me. I nod weakly as his eyes dance over the solid charm.
"You've had it all this time?"
"You told me to hold on to it," he reminds me, pressing a quick kiss to my nose. The weight of the necklace against my chest reminds me of old times, of cuddling in bed and a loom of war overhead. Now it's a symbol of rebirth, of freedom, along with the cuddling. "Do you really not want it?"
"No," I pull his face into my hands, "I do want it." A nervous smile spreads on his face before he kisses me again. "But you better have gotten me something else too." Just as Gale opens his mouth to let out a laugh the door opens and two snowy figures walk in, shaking themselves until all the white is off. Everyone turns as Katniss pulls off her scarf, we all watch as Peeta takes her jacket for her and hangs it by the door.
"Are we late?" she asks quietly. Her eyes find Gales and the corners of her lips tug upwards. I feel Gale tense behind me and I scoot myself off of his lap, allowing him to walk forward if he so wishes. Gale eventually stands and slowly moves across the room, his eyebrows knitted as he looks down on his broken friend, her hair falling messily down her shoulders and light bags under her eyes. "Hey, Gale." Unable to say anything he reaches down, enveloping in her arms. "I missed you," she chokes out.
"I missed you too, Catnip," he replies weakly. A smile spreads on my face as I watch the interaction, he mumbles something quietly in her ear and she lets out a tearful laugh, shaking her head no and pulling him closer. I lift my eyes to Peeta who raises his eyebrows, striding across the room and taking the open seat next to me. Everyone goes back to talking; Haymitch keeps his eye on his beloved tribute with a faint smile.
I twist myself on the couch and squeeze Peeta as tight as I can. "You never call!" I scold him, reaching up and brushing a bit of snow out of his sandy blonde hair. "Makes me think you hate me."
"Just not a big fan of the telephone," Peeta grins and swats my hands away from his hair. "You know I love you." I grip his hand with a smile, my way of telling him that I love him too. Katniss and Gale finally pull away and they take the seats next to us. Peeta drops my hand and instead links it with Katniss, I grab Gale's arm tightly as he bends down to kiss my neck. Katniss makes eye contact with me and tips her head once, that sign of trust and respect has returned. I do the gesture back and we both laugh, eventually pulling our gazes away from each other.
"This one's for you, Haymitch!" Posy hands him some sort of box everyone can only assume to be some sort of alcohol.
Haymitch stutters, unsure of how to continue. I wonder the last time he got a Christmas present. Eventually he forces out, "Thank you, but I didn't need anything." Under his breath I swear I hear him whisper something about already the best Christmas. Still, he pulls down the paper and lets out a hardy laugh. "Apple cider. Funny." The rest of us echo his laughter, watching as he thanks Posy for his present.
One Year Later
I skim through the pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the hundredth time, continuing to wallow on the fact that all of my favorite characters end up dead. One of my co-workers snatches the book from me and holds it up to the light, her eyes widening as she skims the words. "You're still reading this?"
"Rereading it," I frown, snatching the book out of her hands. Before she can make a comment about how I do nothing but read I snap the book shut and shove it under the counter. I don't need her sass today, I have a headache and nothing seems to be going right. "Don't you have work to do, Cece?"
"Only to pester you," she grins, leaning backwards against the counter. Cece works the children's section of the bookstore while I'm mostly stock and behind the scenes type of things. I tell her that her job suits her considering she never learned to read, she tells me I'm only good at my job because I'm good at following orders and can't think for myself. My job is finding the books when they call for them over the loudspeakers, guiding customers to the appropriate section. When there isn't anything to be done I get to read, and let me just say I've been through nearly half of this bookstore. I can't even begin to list the amount of times I've reread certain series. "Actually, I'm here to deliver a message."
"A message?" I raise an eyebrow and lean forward on my elbows. "Don't tell me you've got yourself another cheap date?" Out of everyone in the shop, Cece is the one I can tolerate the most. In fact I'd call us friends. Our banter is only to get us through the painstakingly long days. Sure she drives me up the wall and I could think of thousands of different ways to grind her gears on the spot, but that's what friends do.
"Funny," she smirks, crossing her arms and threatening to walk away, "but it's a real message this time. It's about your husband."
I roll my eyes, "Gale's not my husband, Cece." Sometimes I get this overwhelming dread that he's never going to want to marry me. It's not like things with me and Gale are bad, they're quite the opposite. But as every day passes and no question is popped I wonder if he'll ever ask me to be with him forever. He knows I'd accept in a heartbeat. He knows that. Yet no question. I suppose we're both still young and don't need to rush into anything but I wouldn't exactly call it rushing anymore. In fact everyone, including Cece, assumes we're married. We act like we are, why not make it official?
"Boyfriend, whatever, he's in the hospital. Boss told me to…" she trails off as I lift my head and start toward the door before she can even finish her sentence. That's all I need to hear, that he's in the hospital, and I'm on my way. He shouldn't even be at work right now so I don't think it's from that, it only makes the pit in my stomach grow as I consider what could've happened. The streets of District 2 aren't exactly the safest and considering we walk everywhere instead of driving it only increases the chances of something awful. "Madge," she chases after me and places her hand on my shoulder.
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" I snap at her despite the situation not being her fault. Her hand yanks away from me instantly as if I've burned her, I don't have the energy to apologize to her, maybe tomorrow if I'm able to come in. Why's he in the hospital? Maybe he broke something, maybe it's nothing important. My heart races in my chest as I push past the crowds of people in line to buy books. "I'm going and I'm going now," I call back to her.
"Madge," she repeats, a hint of desperation to her voice despite the fact that she's not trailing me anymore. "Boss didn't say you could…"
"I don't care!" I hiss at her. "I don't care what he said, I'm going!" She holds up her hands and offers me a look of sympathy before starting toward my station. She chews on her lip much like I do and I can tell by the look in her eyes that she's going to cover for me. I rush through the cold November streets of District 2 and push anyone in my path out of the way. Every possible thought is going through my head right now. Dying, slowly dying. They found cancer. They can't heal him. Gale is out of my grasp.
The panic in my thoughts causes my feet to pick up their pace and I eventually make my way to the hospital. I don't care how long anyone's been waiting here, whether they're in labor or have a broken limb, I elbow people out of the way until I get to the front desk. I demand to see him now. At first the secretaries hesitate but upon seeing the look on my face and hearing the sheer panic in my voice, they tell me his room number. I decide that elevators are too slow for me; the adrenaline pumping through my veins gets me up the stairs plenty fast.
My chin quivers as I search for his room number, my hands shake as I fiddle with the door handle. I think back to the war. Images from the skin melting off of people to others being clawed apart by lizard mutts, I prepare myself for the worst. I slam my way into his room and am met with doctors trying to push me back into the hall. "She's my girlfriend," I hear Gale grunt, and they all drop their hands. The sound of his voice causes me to pause in my step; if he's well enough to speak then he must be mostly alright. I still don't breathe until I see him, taking the seat at the side of his bed. They've most likely forced him to lie down. I grab his hand in mine and force out the breath I've been holding all this way here. "Hey," he says weakly, his lips attempting to lift in some sort of smile.
He's sweating; a lot of the color has drained from his face. "What happened?" The words spill out of me and I blink rapidly to stop tears from doing the same. He's got a patch on his shoulder where blood threatens to leak through. It's clear they've cleaned the wound and wrapped it but it's mostly a makeshift job, they're waiting for something else before they do something. I lift my hand to the white square they've got taped to him but can't find the strength to touch the bandage; instead I cup his face and pull his chin down. "What happened?" I repeat, forcing him to look at me. The doctors aren't here, the nurses aren't here, it's only me and Gale.
Gale swallows once and leans in to my touch, taking a deep breath before starting his story. "I was walking home, you know? Some guy tried stealing this girl's purse." I narrow my eyes as he takes a break to cough, his chest heaving with each movement. "I kept thinking if it was you, what if it had been you, so I went after him." I shake my head as he leans down, pressing his forehead against mine. "He had a gun."
"Gale," I groan, chewing on my lip and knitting my eyebrows together. My hand slides down his cheek and I flicker back to the bandage. There's a bullet wound there. A bullet wound. I've been through a war and I haven't even been hit by a bullet, I don't think Gale has either.
He shrugs lightly but then pulls away to start coughing again. "Caught the guy, if that means anything to you," he mumbles. "He's in jail, the girl got her purse back." I try to force a smile but I can't seem to do it. All I can think about is Gale with a bullet wound in his shoulder right here. He lets out another cough as his body shakes, I realize the he's holding back more pain than evident by the way he tries to keep his back straight and how he winces at every twist of his body.
"Well what's being done about it?" I shout to the doctors, suddenly filled with rage at the fact that they've just left him here. "About his wound! You can't just let him rot!"
"Madge," Gale says quietly. "They're gonna put me through surgery they've just got to wait until…"
"Surgery?" I shake my head frantically and burst onto my feet. "No, no, you can't, you can't go into surgery…"
"I have to," he says, grabbing my hand and forcing me to look at him. "The bullet broke apart when it hit me, there're pieces of it in my shoulder. It's nothing major, alright? They've just got to get the bullet pieces out." Still I'm shaking my head, unable to stop the tears from literally falling this time, and he strains himself to reach me. "I'm going to be fine," he reassures me through a quiet voice. "I'm going to get a cool new scar and everything."
"Gale Hawthorne there is no such thing as a cool new scar!" I whimper, throwing my arms around his neck, careful to avoid his shoulder. "I swear if you leave me in this place alone I'll never forgive you."
"It's not a major surgery," he says again with a hint of a smile. He kisses me once before the doctors force me out of the room. "See you on the other side," he teases, but it's not reassuring to me at all.
Of course, everything ends up going smoothly. Sure, I pace the hospital for hours refusing to go home until Gale's out, but everything is fine. He shows me his scar and wraps me in his arms, boasting about how he's a hero of the sorts. All I can do is let him smother me in kisses, reassuring me that he's okay, that he's not going anywhere. I'll never admit to him that the scar is cool.
Two Years Later
When the option arises for me to take a trip to District 6 and help put down a political unrest I jump on the opportunity. Gale protests at first but I eventually coax him into it. All I want is one final mission, one exciting reminder that I'm in charge of my destiny. I tell him how the bookstore is stuffy and I just want a break, how I'll be back the next week, and he finally lets me go. Once Gale finds out that he can't get out of work to go to the other District with me he decides against it, trying to talk me out of going.
"You're just gonna get yourself blow up," he mutters one night. "I don't know why you want to go so badly!"
"I don't understand why you don't trust me with this," I hiss back, slamming cabinets as I go. He doesn't understand that I just want this one last shot at proving myself. "You're just upset that you can't come with me," I conclude.
"Of course that's why I'm upset!" he snaps. "Madge, every time we're apart for awhile something bad happens!" I roll my eyes and rest my hands on the counter to take a deep breath. I know he has a problem with leaving me; he always has ever since the war, but this is how it has to be.
"I'm going, whether you want me to or not." With that, Gale throws his hands in the air and exits our apartment. He says nothing, marching out and not returning for the night. I sleep on his side of the bed hoping he'll join me sometime in the twilight, but he doesn't.
Gale doesn't see me off, he doesn't even call me or leave a message. The entire week I'm away from him a fire burns inside of me, a secret hatred at the fact that he doesn't trust me, that he still treats me like I'm so much younger than him. Everything goes as planned in District 6, of course. The unrest is halted with ease, I don't even get the chance to fire my gun. Overall the trip is uneventful, nothing but a bit of drama between squad members to keep us entertained. I don't talk to Gale the entire week, I half expect him to call me but I know he's too stubborn to do so.
Mostly we were needed for extra security in District 6 while the higher ups worked out some sort of system. We board the hovercraft without problem, I keep mostly to myself. I keep thinking about Gale, how he didn't even bother to call me. I mean sure, I could've called him, that probably would have made more sense, but he's supposed to call me.
The hovercraft starts shaking about half an hour after takeoff. Ten thousand feet in the air our engine gives out, sending us plummeting toward the Earth. Everything happens so fast, so suddenly, I don't have time to process what I'm doing. Someone shakes me until I respond, grabbing both of my arms and hoisting a parachute onto my back. Flashes of the night when I rode with Grash and Bristel flash before me. It's not as bad this time, the wall doesn't rip off and suck us out, but I still feel my heart in my throat.
Those who have been trained in parachuting take the opportunity to get us all involved, instructing us on how to exit the plane. I have a fear of heights I'm not willing to discuss at the time and force myself into the brisk air of the night when they tell me too. I keep my eyes shut but feel the wind that rushes around me. Flames start to leap from the hovercraft as I cascade toward the ground, waiting for the signal to pull the strap I have around my back. I don't have time to panic, I don't have time to cry.
I've been in a hovercraft that went down once before and I have to keep a level head. I bite my tongue and copper swirls in my senses, I force myself to take deep breaths as my body drops to the ground. My insides are screaming, my stomach threatens to send my most recent meal into the air around me, but I listen for orders to be shouted despite the wind funneling in my ears. I make out the faint cry of someone shouting pull and I yank the strap around my stomach. Once the parachute escapes behind me and strangles my insides, causing me to gasp and plead for air, I squeeze my eyes shut and force back tears. I sprain my ankle when I make contact with the ground, twist my wrist as I try to stop the impact. I get plenty of scrapes, bruises, and burns that are sure to leave permanent marks.
"Undersee!" Another member of the team shouts to me as I heave myself up onto all fours, panting and trying to regain my breath. They stride over to me and help me up slowly on shaky legs. I don't know their name but I've seen them around the past week, he places both of his hands on my shoulders until I find myself standing. "Are you okay?" I study his face and find it without a mark, I tip my head into the best nod I can manage. The weight of the situation suddenly hits me as I hear someone scream out in pain, a piercing yelp that pounds through my ear. The world goes black and I stumble backwards. I can only hope someone catches me.
They do, of course, and when I wake again I'm being rolled into a hospital on some sort of gurney. The walls tell me we're back in District 2 and all I can think about is Gale. How he didn't want me to go in the first place, how I hadn't talked to him the entire week I had been there because of said argument. "Gale," I whisper, finding my throat dry and raw. "I need Gale." Neither of the doctors that are wheeling me make any effort to respond so I try my best to shout. The shout comes out ragged, I start coughing violently and sucking in sharp breaths.
"Shhh," the doctors try to keep me quiet as they roll me into a room. I start thrashing, tearing at the straps around my wrists. What if I'm dying? I have to see him! I have to see him one more time!
"I need him!" I shout desperately. "I need him!" They don't understand; they don't know what it's like! The last thing we did was fight, argue, I just long for his scent one last time, a final goodbye so I know that he still loves me, that he doesn't hate me because I left. The two doctor's exchange worried looks but eventually one of them leaves to presumably find him for me. At this reassurance the world slips back into darkness and I don't hesitate to fall into sleep's grasp.
When I wake again someone is pressing their lips to my hand, shaky breaths escape from their throat as they squeeze tightly to my fingers. "It's okay," they whisper as I shift in my spot. "You're okay." My eyes flicker open and study the man in front of me, Gale's eyes are deep with lack of sleep and his eyebrows are knotted in worry. "Hey," he says weakly, kissing my hand again. I squeeze as tight as I can back and he lowers his forehead to my fingers.
"Gale, I'm sorry," the words spill out of me as he brings himself closer, scooting the chair as close to the hospital bed as it can possibly get. "I'm sorry, I should've listened to you, I shouldn't have…"
"No, I'm sorry," he shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut. I attempt to push myself into a sitting position but Gale forces me back down, his eyebrows in the same worried shape. His eyes scan over me as he figures out how to continue. "I shouldn't have yelled at you," he says weakly, he keeps his voice quiet to stop it from shaking but I still hear the quivers. "Before you left. I shouldn't have yelled. I was so worried, Madge, I…"
"I love you," I force out. It's the only thing I know that can get him to stop apologizing. It was my fault too, the fight, I can't stand when he blames himself for things that aren't his fault. "No more fighting, I just love you."
"Only 20 survived," he tells me, dropping his forehead so it rests against my hand. I take a moment to breath, feeling the spark of pain on my rib whenever I inhale too deeply. My ankle's been wrapped and so has my wrist. There's a cord on my forearm that keeps me on a monitor. "Out of 45 of you. I kept thinking how I hadn't said goodbye, how the last thing I said to you was how bad things happen when we're apart." I feel his chin quiver against my hand. "Marry me."
His head lifts up as he gazes into my eyes, repeating, "Marry me." I open my mouth to say something but words continue to leak from him. "I never want to lose you again. Ever. Madge, I love you, I can't lose you again. Please. Marry me." My head tips into a nod as he digs in his pockets. "I should have asked you ages ago, should've married you right when the war ended but I was scared that you'd… that you'd want someone else that…"
"Only you," I refuse his protests and push myself up to sit. I need him closer; I need his skin against mine. I pull his face into my hands and lean until our noses brush. "It's always been you, Gale."
"I'm sorry it took me you to nearly die to ask," he shakes as he pulls out the ring, grabbing my hand lightly and sliding the finger on. It takes a few tries but eventually the jewel glistens, he straightens it properly as he takes deep breaths. "I just… I can't... I've had the ring for months, I couldn't…"
"Yes," I choke out, my hands sliding up his face and forcing him down with me. "Yes, I'll marry you. Right now, tomorrow, whenever." He forces his lips against mine as a tearful laugh escapes me. I wince as a spike of pain shoots down my back and Gale moves away but I grab him again. His hands move lightly over my face, softly against the cuts they've glued together and the burns that haven't fully healed yet.
"I love you," he breathes. "I was so scared, I never felt… I just…" I tease my lips against his until he stops talking, listening as a muffled laugh escapes his through.
"Ms. Undersee," a doctor marches in angrily with a clipboard. "If you over exert yourself your forehead is sure to…"
"Hawthorne," Gale says between kisses. "Mrs. Hawthorne." The doctor stares at us as Gale pulls himself away, "She said yes." I doubt the doctor knows Gale and she surely only knows me because of the name on the clipboard, but her eyes widen and she lifts her hand to her mouth as Gale holds out my own hand. "Yes! She said yes! Hawthorne, her name…"
"Not yet!" I laugh as he kisses me again. With every second the pain lessens, the bubble in my stomach expands. "Not yet."
"Soon," he grins, his hands reaching up to brush the tears from under my eyes. "Very soon."
11 Months Later
Bristel is bent on not letting Gale see me before the ceremony, same goes for me to him. I pace the room she's locked me in and glance at myself in the mirror. I worry the dress I have on is too short, too revealing, yet not showing enough. Katniss sits on a chair in the corner and watches as I pace, saying nothing. I chew my lip and pull on my hair, only then does she make an attempt to stop me.
"Madge," she says quietly, grabbing my hands and pulling me to a pause. "Are you nervous?"
"No," I hurl out quickly. She lifts her eyebrows and I frown, "Maybe a little." I twist the golden ring on my finger, the diamond sparkles. I'm not nervous to be married to him; hell it's not that, it's just weird that it's going to be official. I don't know how much is going to change; we've been together like we were married for years now. The Undersee name will be gone forever; I'll be Madge Hawthorne in just a few hours. "I don't know."
She places her hand on my shoulder and taps at my chin, "You're going to be fine."
"What if he changes his mind?"
Katniss rolls her eyes, "If he didn't want to marry you he wouldn't have asked." Her hands drop to her side and smooth across the dress she's wearing, obviously uncomfortable in the blue garment. She tells me to sit down and then she starts pulling the locks of my hair over my shoulders so they rest on my back. "You look great, Madge. He's going to love it." Still, I chew on my lip. The white dress I wear is longer in the back, trailing across the floor, while the front is shorter. It's covered in beads and pearls and lace in an intricate design. I'm barely wearing any makeup, a light blush down my cheeks. Bristel did my eyes and they have a hint of blue on the lids to 'bring out the color', as she says. My hair's tied back but still down my shoulders, Katniss's hands place the curls in a line.
A knock on the door forces me to my feet and I watch Katniss smirk. "You ready?" Haymitch's voice carries through the door before he pushes it open all the way. He straightens his suit and raises his eyebrows at me. "All grown up and still only 22," he shakes his head. "Katniss you're needed down the aisle." Katniss is my maid of honor. It was going to be Bristel but she rejected the position, saying she would be crying too much to stand on the stage the whole time. Katniss pats me once on the back before exiting the room, making her way down the hall and disappearing out of sight. "Cold feet?"
"Never," I continue to chew my lip. The open door means I have to make my way down the aisle in a few moments. "I might throw up, though."
Haymitch extends his arm and I grip tightly to it. "The nerves will pass," he smiles. We make our way down the hall and I cling tighter to him, hearing music ring from the room we'll be entering. "Hey," Haymitch pulls me to the side and lifts my chin up so I meet his gaze. "I've never met two people more perfect for each other than you and Gale, alright?" I timidly force my head into a nod and he smiles. "Just watch his face when you enter the room. All your doubt will fade." I raise an eyebrow but say nothing, silently agreeing to follow his request.
"Haymitch," I grab his arm before we reach our destination. "Thank you. For handing me off, you know."
"I'm your Godfather," he smirks. "Kind of in the job description." He leans down and wraps his arms around me quickly. "Your parents would be so proud of you," he whispers to me. "Your mother, she'd be a wreck. Your father…"
"He wouldn't come," I respond. "He didn't like Gale."
"He didn't like Gale then," Haymitch corrects as he drops his arms. "He thought Gale was going to get you killed." He pushes a strand of hair out of my face and smiles. "Now, however, after everything you've been through. He'd like Gale. He'd be happy for you, sweetheart. He would." I lift my shoulders lightly, willing the tears to stay out of my eyes. "They're with you, you know," he taps my necklace and I let out a laugh, sniffling once as he wipes under my eyes. "They always will be."
"I know," I say weakly. "Just, thank you. For being here." He grabs me in another hug, careful not to mess up my dress or my hair, and then pulls me down the rest of hallway.
Once we reach the door he pulls me closer to his arm and I force my eyes open. Everyone in the room stands and it should cause me to shift my gaze but I can't. I'm doing just what Haymitch said. I keep my eyes trained on Gale as I take nervous steps down the aisle. Gale's eyes widen when he sees me, all expressions momentarily dissipating from his face. As I continue down the aisle the faintest smile on his face stretches into a grin, his eyes widening as they trail my body. By the time Haymitch hands me off to Gale I'm sure the eyes of both men are wet. Gale's arm shakes as I take hold and we continue up toward the official who will legally bind us forever.
When he lets me go so we can face each other, Gale dips down and kisses me quickly. My heart thuds in my ears as the official snickers, "These two must be eager."
"You look beautiful," Gale murmurs to me and only me, keeping the comment between only us. It causes my cheeks to explode pink. I chew my lip as he pulls away, turning to the official. "Well get started, already." Gale's comment gets receives some laughter from the crowd, hinting toward the eager again, and the official carries on his business, binding us once and for all.
The ceremony goes on and the official reads out of a tiny book. "Do you, Gale Hawthorne, take Margret Undersee to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold for all eternity? To love, cherish, and protect her from all harm, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?"
"I do," Gale nods as slips the wedding band onto my finger. While he lifts my hand he kisses it, repeating, "I do."
"And do you, Margret Undersee, take Gale Hawthorne to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and hold for all eternity? To love, cherish, and honor him, in poverty or wealth, until death do you part?"
"Yes," I say, but then quickly correct myself. "I-I do." I fumble as I try to get his ring on, receiving another laugh from the crowd. Gale's steady breath and now un-shaking hands are what allows me to focus, to breathe. I meet his gaze as the ring slides on and watch as his smile brightens.
"Then by the power vested in me by the Republic of Panem, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss…" his words are drowned out in applause as Gale closes the distance between us and presses his lips hungrily against mine. My arms latch around his neck and his around my waist, he dips us and the cheering from the audience increases. Somewhere between the pounding of my heart in my ears and the applause I hear the official shout, "I present you, Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne!" Hawthorne. I'm Madge Hawthorne.
Later That Night
"When my son told me he was dating the mayor's daughter," Hazelle stands at the mic and tells our story, "I was… annoyed." Chuckles lift from the crowd as Gale squeezes my hand tightly. His fingers trace the initials I carved so long ago. They're now mostly faded, but still easy to find if you know where to start looking. Whoever wants to share their story of me and Gale goes to the microphone in the front of the room and does that, shares it. Hazelle's up there now, her eyes focused on me and Gale who sit by the front in the center.
"Thanks for the support, Ma," Gale calls out, and then the crowd laughs again.
"You have to understand we had nothing, then. We were poor, always hungry… I just kept thinking: what could she possibly want from us? Madge was lovely, of course, and the more I saw them together the less I opposed the idea. She didn't want anything, just my son's heart." My cheeks turn pink as I see Gale smirk out of the corner of my eye. Hazelle continues, "I thought my son had been setting himself up for heartbreak. The mayor's daughter was sure to have plenty of boys after her that would fight for her affection. I never would have imagined that we'd end up here. However, tonight, there's no place I'd rather be." She pauses, lifting up her glass, "To Madge, my new daughter."
"And sister!" I hear Rory shout from the back of the room.
The crowd echoes, "To Madge!" Everyone tips their cups and drinks to the toast. I roll my eyes playfully as Gale nudges my side while he sips his champagne.
Hazelle steps off the stage and makes her way to us, placing her hands on both of my shoulders. "I'm so happy for you," she says quietly. "There's no one else I'd rather my son be with."
"Thank you," I force out. Hazelle nods as the smile I wear widens, and then she presses her lips to my forehead. Then she moves to Gale, her hand trailing across his cheek lightly before making her way back to her table.
The toasts carry on through the night. I can't decide if my favorite toast is Thom ("You'll never understand how jealous I was. The mayor's daughter? Damn, Gale! I mean then I realized I liked Bristel so I wasn't as jealous but still…"), Haymitch ("Oh, I knew Gale through Katniss. Madge didn't know I was her Godfather then so I couldn't exactly rough him up without receiving a few questioning looks. I knew he upset her though and I wanted to tear his throat out.") or Katniss ("I thought it was a joke at first if we're being honest. It made me want to puke. Then I saw them together and I knew… I just knew it wasn't. The way he treats her, he doesn't treat anyone else like that.").
Eventually, however, I decide on Finnick's speech being my favorite. "You never know true love until you've experienced it yourself," he says. "With Annie my love grew. With our child my love only increased." I glance over my shoulder at Finnick's table where Annie sits holding a bouncing baby boy. "Watching Gale and Madge together… it's one of those things that you know. You can just tell by looking at them. The way Gale's eyes light up and the way Madge blushes even after all this time. That feeling doesn't go away." He pauses to readjust the microphone. "Once you have true love you can identify it so easily, and they have it. Oh, they have it."
The crowd busts into applause as Gale pulls me closer, pressing a kiss to my temple as our oceanic friend continues his speech. "Madge became like a daughter to me and Annie after the war. She still is like a daughter. No offense, Haymitch," Finnick points to the aging man in the crowd who raises his shoulders in a shrug while a smile lifts on his face. "And with your daughter you must trust her judgment on things like this. Gale, if you hurt her I will kill you."
"I'll allow it," Gale calls up to him with a laugh. "But I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"No," Finnick answers. "I don't either."
A Few Hours Later
Once we step off the elevator Gale scoops me into his arms. "What are you doing?" I laugh as he strides toward our apartment.
"I know you wanted to get married in District 12," he says as he opens the door, "and because we couldn't do that I wanted to bring a bit of District 12 here." He carries me across the threshold and then deposits me lightly on my toes. My hand rests on his chest as I gaze into our apartment; the fireplace across the room is already flickering to life.
"The Toasting," I gasp, and he nods. Many people assumed that because I was the mayor's daughter I hadn't heard of the Toasting or wanted anything to do with it, but I had. Oh, I've always wanted something like this. His arm slips around my waist as he pulls me toward the fire.
"I had Mellark bake the bread," he tells me. I roll my eyes at the nickname that stuck despite Katniss soon becoming a Mellark herself. "Because you love him so much."
"Mmm, yes, maybe I should have married Peeta." Gale also rolls his eyes while he cuts the bread. My eyes linger on the ring he now wears on his finger, the ring I placed there just earlier today. He notices me staring and lifts his gaze, a minuscule smile spreading on his face. He keeps his hand on the slice while I grab the other end. "Count of three?"
He nods, "1… 2…. 3…" Together we toss the piece of bread into the fire, listening to it crackle and sizzle below us.
"Do we take it out?" I ask. I've heard of the Toasting ceremony but I've never done it, nor watched it happen. Gale nods, waiting a few more minutes before getting it out with prongs and placing it onto a plate. "Do we eat it?" Again he nods, a laugh bubbling out of his throat. I take to the sofa and wait for him to follow. He slathers the piece of bread in strawberry jam before cutting it in half, handing one piece to me.
"For you, Mrs. Hawthorne," he says brightly.
"Thank you, Mr. Hawthorne." He pulls me into his arms as I nibble on the bread. Toasted perfectly. Once the treat is gone Gale spins me around, pinning me down on the couch before nipping against me. "We're married," I force out between desperate kisses. He nods, his arms slipping around my waist and up my sides and through my hair. "Gale, we're married."
"I know," he laughs, brushing a strand of hair out of my face. "You're my wife." I nod once as he grins. "I've wanted to say that for so long."
"Then say it again," I giggle as he kisses my nose.
"I have the rest of our lives to say it," Gale replies, dipping down and pressing his lips to my collarbone. "Now, however, there are some other things I'd like to do." His hands circle around my waist as he pulls me up, stationing me in his arms before carrying me off to our bed.
Seven Months Later
I pace back and forth through the apartment trying to figure out what else I can clean. I've already scrubbed the bathroom, the kitchen, there has to be something else. My eyes catch a spot on the glass as I scan out across District 2 and I realize I need to clean the windows. I rush to get the supplies from under the sink and begin spraying away, wiping away all the fingerprints and places our foreheads have rested. As I'm scrubbing a particularly dirty spot I hear Gale come home, the door quietly shutting as his footsteps echo through the room.
"Madge?" his voice carries around the apartment until he finds me. "Hey," his face brightens when he spots me. He tosses his jacket on the counter and makes his way toward me. I drop the sponge in the bucket as he gets near and wipe the sweat off my forehead quickly, still trying to impress him despite him being my husband. "Guess what?"
"What?" I ask, pressing up on my toes and meeting him in a kiss half way.
He glances down at me, his mouth open like he's going to continue, but then stops. His lips press together and then against mine once more. "What's wrong?"
I narrow my eyes as he licks his lips, "What?"
"You only clean when you're upset about something," he says, brushing a strand of hair that fell out of my bun back behind my ear. I roll my eyes and reach back down for the sponge but he pushes the bucket out of the way with his foot. "You're my wife, hun, I know when you're upset about something." I cross my arms and straighten my back. "Hm?" I narrow my gaze as his grin widens. "How about I tell you my news and then you tell me what's on your mind, okay?"
"Sure, Gale," I sigh, leaning backwards against the windows that I'll just have to clean again. "You go first."
"I got a promotion," he says simply. His eyebrows rise up his forehead like it's the most natural thing ever. "Triple the pay, as well as the title of Commander."
"That's great!" I laugh, rushing forward as he holds his arms open. "Oh, Gale," his arms tighten around my back as he spins me. Once he drops me he lowers his forehead to mine, lightly teasing his lips against mine.
"Your turn," he grins, but I scrunch my nose. "Tell me." He kisses me again trying to coax it out of me. "Tell me." Another kiss. "Tell me."
"Gale!" I pry myself out of his arms but he doesn't let me get far, wrapping himself around my waist and resting his chin on my neck. "It's nothing, I just… it's nothing."
"Something at work?" His breath is warm against my ear and I lean my head into a no. "Did I do something?" Again I shake my head no, trying to escape his grasp. Every time I try, however, he pulls me tighter. "You gotta tell me, Madge. Do I need to beat Thom up?"
I laugh, "It's nothing like that." Gale plants kisses on my collarbone and I sigh, leaning backwards into his grasp.
"Then tell me," he pleads lightly. "Is it about moving again? Because if it is then we can still talk about it…"
"No, it's not about moving," I scowl. I went through a phase a few weeks ago where I was dead set on moving back to District 12 but Gale, of course, was opposed. He ultimately won the argument and I no longer wish to move back there. I quite like District 2. I rub my face until he loosens his grip, allowing me to turn and face him. "I just… I don't know how you'll take it." He raises an eyebrow and leads me to the couch, pulling me down so I rest against his chest. I yank my hair out of the bun and pull my fingers through it, trying to straighten it a bit.
"Hit me," he says simply, playing with the tips of my hair. His fingers curl around my golden locks as he kisses the top of my head. "I can take it."
I chew my lip, "No, I'm not sure you can." Gale isn't good with news like this. He's good at delivering news, sure, but surprises? Nope. Not Gale. Once I surprised him on a trip out to District 4 to see Finnick and Annie and he was red in the face the entire day as if his whole schedule was off whack.
And then there's the fact that Gale always goes to the worst case scenario. "You didn't… you didn't cheat or anything…"
"No," I shove his chest. I know he doesn't really think I'd do something like that; he just wants to make sure. I'd probably ask the same thing if he was acting like I am, I just can't figure out how to say it, how to tell him. "Selfish bastard."
He smirks, "Just making sure." His lips find my neck. "Tell me," he whispers again. His voice is pleading, desperate. "I just want to make sure you're okay." I throw my head back as he works away on my collarbone. Gale's hands tighten around my waist and my heartbeat picks up. It's now or never.
"I think I might… I think I might be," I fumble in my words and Gale picks his head up. I can't get all the words out.
"Might be what?" I sigh as Gale turns to face me, his eyebrows knitted in concentration. "Might be what, Madge?" His hand reaches up to cup my cheek but his eyes drop to my stomach. I dip my head in the slightest yes and watch as his eyes widen. "Pr–" he can't finish the word as I continue to nod. Gale drops his hand from my cheek and rests it against my stomach, I close my eyes to the gentle gesture. "You think? Or… or you know?"
"Okay, I know," I say weakly. My eyes flicker open as his forehead lowers to mine; his eyes are trained on my stomach. "I wasn't sure but I went to the doctors this morning and…" he cuts me off by crashing his lips to mine, lifting his hand back to my face and pulling me in as close as he can. "Gale?"
"You're… you're really?"
"Pregnant?" He nods and so do I. "Yes, I'm really pregnant." A strangled laugh escapes him as he kisses me again. His arms circle gently around my waist and he's careful not to touch my stomach. "You're not going to hurt anything," I laugh as he squeezes me with precaution. His lips skirt across my forehead, down my cheek until they find my lips again. "Are you ready for this?" I breathe against his mouth and he shakes his head no.
"Not yet. But I will be." He cups my face and grins. "I love you," he tells me quietly. "I have no idea how to do this but I'm going to be the best father I can, okay?" I nod as my lips curl into a smile. "I just really love you."
"I know we're still young," I add quickly, but he shakes his head no.
"Big family, remember?" I laugh as his hands trail across my body, unsure of where to stop or what to do. "We're really… we're having a baby?" Again I nod, his hands finally settling on my face to pull me closer. "How many?"
"Hopefully just one right now," I mutter, knowing my mother was a twin and it's very possible for me to give birth to twins. "How many kids do you want?"
Gale thinks for a moment before saying, "Five."
"Gale I'm not a birthing machine!" He laughs, his hands dropping to my waist and holding me as close as he possibly can. My arms find their way around his neck. "I thought you were going to freak out," I admit.
"I am freaking out," he replies weakly. I lean back a bit and place my palm lightly on his cheek. "First a husband, then a dad…" he shakes his head as I kiss him gently. "What if I'm not…" Again I kiss him, cutting off his sentence. He melts into this kiss, his hand lifting up to tangle in my hair, the other firm against my hip.
"You're going to be a great dad," I tell him as I brush through his bangs with my fingers. "I love you."
Approximately Nine Months Later
"I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!" I squeeze his hand and throw my head back. "Gale Hawthorne I'm going to kill you once this baby gets out of me!"
"Just take a deep breath," he replies calmly. As if he's the one trying to shove a baby out of the smallest opening in his body. I can't breathe, I can't feel anything. Where's the pain medicine? Oh, hell, my body is being ripped apart!
"Where the hell is Finnick? I'm going to get him to kill you for me!" I'm dying, oh hell I'm dying. Waves of agony ripple through my skin and up my spine and through my stomach. I squeeze as tight as I can on Gale's hand and feel him flinch. I hope I broke a damn finger. "Where the hell is the pain medicine!" Doctors shout around me, telling me to push, push, because that's so easy! My eyes snap shut as I make my attempt at pushing and I grunt.
"You're almost there, babe," Gale says from beside me.
"Do not call me babe you inconsiderate bastard! I hate you," I say again. "We are not having six kids, damnit!" Deep breath, deep breath, I suck in air as fast as I can and release it back. "I can't do this!"
"Almost there," he says again. Stabbing, getting my flesh ripped off and out, a pounding headache that will not go away. "Come on, Madge," I shake my head no, no, no, I can't, I cannot do this. "One more." With one last final push the pain is gone; I let out a deep breath as the sound of a baby's cry fills the air.
"It's a boy," the doctor is saying. "A beautiful baby boy, Mrs. Hawthorne."
"Let me see him," I pant, reaching up in the air as if they're going to hand him to me right now. "My son, let me see him." A few minutes pass of frantic moving around and I force my eyes open as they thrust him into my hands. "Gale," I extend my hand until I meet his face, pulling him close to us. "Look." All Gale can do it nod, his eyes traveling over the small figure in my hands. The baby starts crying again and a laugh bubbles out of me as my fingers dance across his tiny cheek. The ghastly noises fade as the baby blinks, my baby, our baby. "What do we name him?"
"Boone," Gale says quickly. "After my father…"
I nod, "Boone Leon." Both of our fathers. "Boone Leon Hawthorne." The doctors and nurses hit a few buttons on the computer as Gale leans closer. "He's so beautiful." He has the lighter skin that I possess but a head already full of hair as dark as Gale's. His eyes are bright, a collision of blue and gray swim before us. I swaddle the baby in my arms and another laugh bubbles out of me. My son. Our son. "Do you want to hold him?" I lift the boy wrapped in a blue blanket up to Gale who hesitates. "Hold him," I say, handing him over gently.
One in Gale's arms the baby reaches up, his fingers traveling across the stubble on Gale's chin. "Hi," Gale says quietly. "I'm your dad," he whispers. "And that's your mom," he points in my direction as another laugh eases out of me, my eyes suddenly prickled with tears. "And we love you very much, we're going to spoil you rotten." Gale lifts his gaze to me and mouths I love you before looking down at Boone again. "Hi baby," Gale laughs brightly and traces his nose with his finger. "You're perfect."
Twenty Years Later
The dryer beeps and I make my way to the laundry room, listening to the rowdy footsteps of my husband and children downstairs disappear out the door. Today is Iulia's 10th birthday which means Gale is taking her and the others out for her first hunting trip. Me, unable to kill an innocent animal, has chosen to stay home no matter how much Gale pleaded with me. Along with Iulia is Pax who turned 12 last month and Zeno who turns 14 in a week. Sarus is with Finnick and Annie to stay for the weekend, him and the most recent Odair are both 9.
I make my way to the window just in time to watch my dark haired men push their way into the woods by our house, followed by my beautiful blondes. After I gave birth to Boone Gale decided we needed to move. Not out of District 2 considering it had become our safe haven, but into a bigger house. With six children I'd say the house we live in is plenty necessary. Where we live now is around others yet with an abundant forest right on the edge. It became a tradition to take all the kids hunting on their 10th birthday considering that's when Gale learned how to hunt. So far it would appear the girls like it more than the boys, but Sarus hasn't been yet. Pax didn't like it much either but she went along because Iulia asked her to.
I make my way back to the dryer and begin pulling out clothing, humming a tune that often gets stuck in my head from many years ago when I played in a recital. "Mom?" I lift my head from Gale's uniform and watch Anetha stick her head in the room. "Can we talk?"
"Sure, hun," I smile, turning. "Would you like to help me with the laundry?" She laughs, taking a hair tie off her wrist and pinning up her long dark hair up in a pony. She's the only of our daughters to have hair like Gale's while Sarus is the only boy with golden hair like me. "What's up?" Ann takes a shirt out of the dryer and attempts to fold it. "I thought you went with your father."
"I was going to," she says. "I just wasn't up for it today." She folds the shirt sloppily and I snatch it from her hands with a smirk.
"So what's up?" I ask again, watching her sink into a laundry basket filled with dirty towels. "Is this about Boone leaving for college?"
"Nah," she shakes her head. Boone left for his degree in art studies a few weeks ago, the house hasn't been the same without it. He and Anetha were close despite having a four year age difference. They learned piano together, went hunting together, went to parties together. "I talked to him yesterday."
"Well then what?" I pry, nudging the basket she's in with my foot. "Hm?"
"I was reading my textbook the other day," she starts, and I can't help but laugh. Anetha gets good grades, sure, but it doesn't mean she likes school. She got that trait from her father, of course. "Aw, Mom!"
"Sorry," I grin, brushing a strand of hair from my face. "Go on, textbook…"
"And I was reading about the war," she stubbornly continues, crossing her arms across her chest. "You know, about you and Dad." I tip my head into a nod. The kids know a bit about the war, about how the Capitol tortured me so when I get headaches I'm to be kept away from at all costs. They don't know the details, only to stay away when my head aches. It's rare but it still happens. They don't know the details. "You were still Undersee then."
"That I was," I nod. The name almost feels foreign to me, I haven't been called Undersee in years. The only time I hear it is when Finnick teases me or one of Gale's work buddies comes into the bookstore.
"Did you and Dad meet during the war?"
"So you want to know about me and your father, eh?" I chuckle, leaning backwards against the dryer. "No, I met your father back in District 12. I lived there when I was younger with my parents." I pause as I heave the rest of the clothes from the dryer into a basket, stationing it between me and Anetha so she can help if she'd like. Fortunately she reaches for a shirt as I continue. "My family was the wealthiest in the District, my father was the mayor."
Her eyes widen, "I thought Dad was poor when he was younger. How'd you two meet?"
I laugh, "He sold me strawberries."
"Let me guess," she says once she gets a few things folded. "You and Dad hated each other. Then when the war happened you two ended up on the same squad and somehow worked around your differences?"
"Wrong," I snicker. "I loved your father way before the war started. We were together when the war happened. We were supposed to go to District 13 together but then the bombing of the District happened and we got separated. I ended up going to the Capitol instead." Anetha nibbles on her lip and averts her eyes, pausing on the pair of shorts she's currently folding.
"You never talk about it," she says quietly. "Is it because I'm too young? I'm 16, that's how old you were when Aunt Katniss got Reaped, and…"
"It's not because you're too young," I sigh, taking a seat in the laundry basket next to hers. "I didn't even tell Boone, dear." She keeps her eyes on the shorts in her hands and continues to chew on her lip. It's not that I don't want to tell her, especially because she wants to know. I just fear for her. Gale still wakes up with nightmares about the Capitol, as do I. Why would I want to pass that burden on to my children? "It was scary," I finally say. "Not something I want any of you kids to live through. They did horrible things to me in there, things I don't have the heart to tell you. You have to understand that, Ann."
"I do," she frowns. "I'm just curious is all." There's another pause as she finally folds the shorts. "I saw you attack Dad. Last week." I wince at her words, taking a moment to pause and collect my breath. It was a short moment of course but my hands were tight around Gale's neck. His voice is still a bit sore but nothing too major. "I keep thinking about it."
"I black out whenever it happens," I finally force out. "I'm so sorry you had to see that… I…" I drop my head into my hands and rub my fingers over my temples. "You probably think I'm crazy…"
"Nah," she lifts her shoulders into a shrug and continues folding things from the basket. "It was scary but if Dad married you then you're obviously not crazy. Unless he's crazy too, which is possible." I laugh slightly and pick my head up from my hands, watching her lips curl into a smile. "Anyways, back to you and Dad."
"Why are you so interested?" I laugh. "Alright, after I got out of the Capitol your father saved the day and we went into the war together and both came out alive and now we're here. The end."
Anetha frowns, "Dad told it in much more detail than you did." I raise my eyebrows, wondering what sort of details Gale used in our story. There are some things I don't want our children to know, some things I like to keep between just the two of us.
"Oh, so you've asked your father about this already?"
"Course she did," Gale's voice causes us both to turn; Anetha nearly falls out of her basket. I hold my hand up to my heart considering he startled me and go to scold him. "It's going to storm," he answers the unasked question of why he's suddenly home. "I told the kids they could stay outside until it starts raining." He walks over and extends his hand to me, helping me up out of the basket. "Were you comfortable?" His voice stays quiet as if he's asking me something private.
"Yes," I frown, masking the pink to my cheeks, "I was." He laughs, leaning down and pressing his lips against mine quickly.
"Want me to make dinner?"
"If you want," I reply quietly. His eyes trail to Anetha who pretends to busy herself folding clothes. Again he kisses me, my stomach still twisting even after all this time.
"I don't want," he laughs, starting his way back toward the stairs, "but I will for you." I roll my eyes as his laugh echoes through the hall and then extend a hand down to Anetha, helping her up quickly. She straightens her shirt and then pulls the tie out of her hair, letting it fall down her back in curls like mine had when I was younger.
Anetha turns to make sure her father is actually downstairs. "I still don't understand how you were so badass in the war and now you work at a bookstore."
"Language," I scold her. "And I don't work at the bookstore, I own, the bookstore." She rolls her eyes but keeps a smile on her face. "Why do you want to know so much about me and your father, hm?"
"I'm just wondering," Anetha finally answers, "because you met Dad when you were 16, right?"
"You met a boy?" I raise an eyebrow. Of course she met a boy. Play at the heartstrings to get my approval of some boy. "What's his name?"
"He's Boone's friend so he's 19 and…"
"Nope," I shake my head. She sighs angrily and balls her hands into fists, dropping them at her sides. "No, no, and no. You're 16, Anetha!"
"Dad was 19 when you first started dating!" Her arms cross as she storms from the room. "Dad! Mom won't let me date!"
"Aw, Madge," Gale's voice echoes from the kitchen. "Let her go out!"
"Gale Hawthorne," I frown, following Anetha down the stairs. "You were enough trouble when we first started dating, Anetha doesn't need…" I end up in the kitchen where both my daughter and husband have their arms crossed and their eyebrows raised. They planned this, of course they did. Like father like daughter. "I get to meet him," I finally sigh after realizing there's no way I'm going to win this. Anetha jumps on her toes, rushing over and hugging me quickly.
"Thanks Mom! Love you!" After that she rushes from the room, probably to call up the boy in question. I turn to Gale and mimic his stance, crossing my arms across my chest.
"You always side with her," I mutter.
"You always sided with Boone. All because he played the piano just like you."
I laugh, "That's not true."
"It is true," Gale grins, dropping his arms and grabbing the hem of my shirt to pull me closer. We both turn our heads as we hear Anetha squeal into the phone, her footsteps echoing overhead from where her room is. "Look how happy you've made her," he whispers, tipping my chin up. "Could be true love."
"Could be heartache," I say back as his lips move gently across mine. "Or true love. Is that what we were?"
"No," he laughs. "We were heartache." I push his shoulder as his shoulder as he switches his grip around me, pulling me close against him. "I love you," he grins, kissing me quickly. His eyes avert to my forehead as he lifts his hand up, toying at a strand of my hair. "Is that a gray hair?"
"Oh, you ass!" I push him backwards as he lets out a hearty laugh, pulling me into his arms once more. In one swift motion he lifts me to the counter, cupping my cheek and forcefully kissing me. "If anyone has gray hair it's you," I murmur between our lips. "I just choose not to say anything." He grins against my lips, kissing down my neck slowly.
"Mom! Dad!" Zeno's shocked voice pulls us out of our moment of passion and be both turn. He and Pax stand staring at us with wide eyes. "Really? In the kitchen?"
"I will kiss your mother wherever I please," Gale answers with a smirk, pulling my chin and kissing me again. "And you will deal with it!"
"Gale," I laugh and fight the swirling of my stomach, pushing him backwards to the point where I can slip off the counter. "Make dinner," I demand with a smirk. He starts toward the fridge with a defeated face.
"Sure," he frowns. I shoo the kids out of the kitchen and turn back to him. "I love you," he tells me quietly, pulling me back in for one more kiss. "And our children, despite them never letting us have a moment of privacy anymore."
"I love you too," I laugh against his lips. "Good thing I'm sending them to Haymitch for the holidays, eh?" Gale's eyes brighten at my words and I tip my head once, watching a grin form on his face. I follow my kids into the living room with a smile. I plop down next to Pax and throw my arm over her shoulder, kicking my feet up on the coffee table and watching some show roll across the TV. All I can think about is the man in the kitchen, the man I fell in love with. Holidays are in two weeks, and they're two weeks long. They'll only be at Haymitch's for one week but that's one week of just me and Gale together alone…
"Mom," Pax nudges me. "What're you thinking about?"
"Nothing," I laugh, brushing her hair out of her face. "Just my beautiful children and how I love them all so much."
She rolls her eyes but leans more into my side. "We love you too," she says brightly. "Maybe not as much as Dad loves you," she teases and I tickle her side. "But we still love you." I press a kiss to her forehead and watch Gale scurry about the kitchen. He catches me watching and winks once, causing my heart to leap in my chest. Pax nuzzles closer to me; I sigh watching Iulia and Zeno fight over the remote. Gale whistles the tune of a song he once sang to me while he cooks and I can't wipe the smile from my face.
We've been through whippings, bombings, and wars. We've been through late nights with early mornings, through drunken nights and headaches. Gale's carried me through thresholds, to the car, to our bed. We've managed through hundreds of diapers, children who pull each other's hair, and babies that kept us from sleeping. How we did it, how we do it, I don't know, but there isn't anyone else I'd rather have spent my life with. None of this was expected, but that's how it ought to be. Gale Hawthorne is all I need in life, the memories, the children… what we've made out of each other are just the perfect bonus.
A/N: 12000+ words later, we're finally at the end. Thank you. Thank you all who have read and stuck with me for so long. I hope the ending lived up to it. Obviously it was difficult to wrap everything up, especially this last paragraph, but I hope I did it justice. It has been such a journey, writing this story. My fans, my lovely readers, you're all amazing. Thank you so much for being with me through this. I'm so privileged to have readers like you. You are the reason I write, why I try my hardest. I hope you enjoyed this final chapter, for I enjoyed writing it. And if you didn't, well, I did. So oh well. I love you all, and once again, thank you. Love, Jenn. Omg I almost forgot to thank Sera for beta-ing. Thank you Sera!